Regular readers of the Herald will be aware that Iain Macwhirter has rarely missed an opportunity in his recent columns to state, supposedly as an established fact, that there isn't going to be another independence referendum any time soon. I believe he's wrong about that, although obviously I would be foolish to completely exclude the possibility that he knows something the rest of us don't, because he's very well-connected. However, I thought it was interesting in his most recent piece that he seemed to be relying mainly on gossip from the Westminster side of the equation - ie. that the UK government have convinced themselves that Nicola Sturgeon doesn't have the "authority" to push for a referendum. Why doesn't she? Perhaps because she "only" leads a minority government. (Just as Theresa May does without fretting for a moment about "authority".) Or perhaps because the SNP lost 19 seats at the general election. (An election the SNP nevertheless won by a 1987 Thatcher-style landslide majority.)
If it's true that the London Tories have got carried away with the bogus narrative of Nicola Sturgeon losing her capacity to act, that could explain the seemingly insane decision today to curtail negotiations with the Scottish government and unilaterally press ahead with plans to reduce the Scottish Parliament's powers, thus driving a coach and horses through the Sewel Convention, which has been faithfully upheld for nineteen years. They must truly believe that they can get away with just about anything without having to worry about triggering an independence referendum.
In that they're mistaken. My own guess (and it is only a guess) is that Nicola Sturgeon has always been genuine about the possibility of a pre-2021 referendum. But even if by any chance it turns out she hasn't been genuine, it would still be the case that she and the wider independence movement have their breaking-point. The idea that Scotland can be dragged out of the EU, the single market and the customs union against its will and the Scottish Parliament's powers can be reduced in defiance of the Sewel Convention and the UK government can go to court to get a law of the Scottish Parliament overturned and all of the above can happen despite the Scottish government making efforts in good faith to reach a negotiated settlement...SNP members will be screaming to themselves "if that isn't the change in circumstances that demands a second indyref, what on earth would be?" The pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to act would be overwhelming, and I doubt if she'd even want to resist it.
We now have a precedent of a Bill being introduced in spite of doubts over the Scottish Parliament's competence to pass it. There's no reason why a Bill to legislate for a consultative independence referendum couldn't be brought forward in similar circumstances, with the SNP content to try their luck in the courts. The current constitutional crisis could well be taking us in that direction - unless, ironically, the Supreme Court or the House of Lords step in over the coming weeks to save the Tories from themselves.